We live in a world where public perception about law enforcement is based not upon personal experiential knowledge or purposeful contemplation of complex socio-economic issues, but on three- and five-minute YouTube videos. The problem is, most of those videos are not favorable — to put it mildly — to the cops who patrol our streets and keep our citizens safe. Anti-cop cell-phone videos pop up on the video-sharing website with sickening regularity, and from there they propagate to Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and all manner of other “social media” sites. This is magnified and multiplied manifold by the mainstream media once it gets its hands on the aforementioned videotape.
Led by Chief of Police Gerald Whitman, the Denver Police Department has taken the bull by the horns and begun to produce its own series of videos for YouTube (and we’ve posted them here on BLUtube, the only online video sharing site which is staunchly pro-LEO). The first video in the series debuted in December, and the second installment went live today. If you haven’t yet seen them, you should check them out now. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.
Changing Filters, Improving Perceptions
“There’s a lot of misperception in public because what’s often highlighted is the negative — or what’s perceived to be the negative,” Lt. Matthew Murray told PoliceOne this week. Lt. Murray is Denver PD PIO, Aide to the Chief of Police, and one of the architects of the new video series. “We felt that it was important to show the positive of what we do — to give people a much more in-depth understanding of what we do.”
No matter what anybody says to the contrary, everyone in the media — me included! — writes through a filter. My filter happens to be in support of law enforcers, but I’m vastly outnumbered by media types whose filter is that which supports “the accused.”
It appears to yours truly that Denver Police Department is taking a pragmatic, two-pronged approach to the problem. First, they are engaging their mainstream media outlets in a way that gives the local press access to the PD with high-quality video which is suitable for both web and broadcast. A local TV station will be present during the filming of an upcoming episode, for example, and be able to do a segment for their newscast about the project and its process. Another station, KUSA Channel 9, has indicated their intention to air every episode in the series.
But more importantly, DPD is proactively engaging a rapidly-growing segment of the population that doesn’t consume its “news” on TV or in the newspapers. They get their news via Twitter. And Denver PD has been wildly successful on Twitter — the agency was way out in front of the Twitter movement when it launched its Twitter site on June 1, 2008.
The Guy Behind the Guy
Without getting too deep in the Internet technology weeds, one could reasonably argue that without YouTube, sites like Twitter and Facebook would have very little video. In effect, YouTube has become like BASF. Never heard of BASF? You may remember their ad slogan: “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.”
They are, in business-speak, basically the guy behind the guy.
At its inception, YouTube was in and of itself a social networking site. In fact, there were many people who thought that YouTube’s deep multimedia capabilities would spell the end for ancient — er, uh, I mean nascent — social networking sites like MySpace. MySpace is still alive by the way, albeit almost not so much. Anyway, people still have YouTube “identities” with screen names and login passwords. They share videos, they make comments, and they do much the same stuff one might do on Facebook. But they don’t do that interactive stuff on YouTube proper with anything near the regularity they do on Facebook, and YouTube has nothing near the reach to mobile phones as Twitter.
So, DPD posts its videos to YouTube, Tweets them, and lets the Internet work its viral magic. Of course it’s not quite as simple as that, but it’s not terribly complex either.
The Department secured funding for the venture — they certainly weren’t going to use tax money for it — from the Denver Police Foundation, a nonprofit “created to enhance public safety and law enforcement in the Denver community,” according to its website. “The Foundation does so by raising funds for initiatives aimed at reducing crime and improving life for all citizens of the city.”
With the funding in place from the Denver Police Foundation, DPD worked with a professional production company — Lets be Frank Productions — with whom the agency had been longtime partners in the production of a local community access TV show called “The Blue and You.”
For Cops, By Cops
There will be a variety of vignettes — there is funding for a total of eleven episodes — and there will be a wide range of characters portrayed as the series unfolds. Interestingly, every character in the video series — from the bad guys like John Doe in Episode One: Apprehending John Doe to the various innocent bystanders — is played by a DPD officer.
“Cops are just tired of getting kicked around by the press,” Murray told me, “and they just want to see something positive. I think that’s one of the reasons the first video got so much play on your site. We have some stuff coming that cops are just going to love.”
Chiefs of Police, PIOs, or patrol officers who want to talk with Murray further about how they secured the funding and did the production can email him at Matthew.Murray@denvergov.org. That, or you could hit him up on Twitter.